July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912

Perished !

Colonel J.J. Astor (aka John Jacob Astor IV) was returning from a trip to Egypt with his 19-year-old bride, formerly Miss Madeleine Force, to whom he married in Providence, September 9th, 1911. The trip was an extended honeymoon, in hope that the scandalous gossip surrounding their marriage would die down before their return (Madeline was a year younger than Astor’s son).  He was head of the family whose name he bore and one of the world’s wealthiest men. He was not, however, one of the world’s “idle rich”, for his life of 47 years was a well-filled one. He had managed the family estates since 1891; built the Astor Hotel, New York; was colonel on the staff of Governor Levi P. Morton, and in May, 1898, was commissioned colonel of the United States volunteers. After assisting Major General Breckinridge, inspector-general of the United States Army, he was assigned to duty on the staff of Major-General Shafter and served in Cuba during the operations ending in the surrender of Santiago. He was also the inventor of the bicycle brake, a pneumatic road improver, and an improved turbine engine.

Fateful Decision

On discovering Madeline was pregnant, Astor booked first-class passage home on the ill-fated ship at Cherbourg, France on Wednesday, 10th of April, 1912. The couple was accompanied by Molly Brown, who also found herself in need of returning home to the United States urgently. His party also included his servant, his wife’s maid and nurse and his pet Airedale, Kitty.

It was widely reported that John Astor had asked that he accompany his wife into the lifeboat because she was with child, an indication of cowardice to some. However, witnesses observed that when he was informed, no men were allowed in the boats, he gave his wife a hug and kiss, then stood back, noted the number of his wife’s boat (number 4), threw his gloves to her as the boat was lowered and then began in assisting other crew members in helping women and children into the remaining vessels. After he placed a baby into the last boat he gave a military salute and then went to join his friend Major Butt on the bridge.

Unfortunately, John Jacob Astor IV would become one of 1635 that perished in the icy waters. His body was recovered by the steamer Mackay-Bennett on April 22nd, 1912. Battered and covered in soot, it is believed that Astor was crushed by the first funnel. He was identified by the initials on his dinner jacket. The distraught wife remained by the side of the coffin at Rhumbeck Mansion, inconsolable, until the funeral. Originally it was believed that Astor had not made a new will, following his recent marriage to Madeline, and that there was no previsions made for her. But on the 7th of May 1911 the latest will was made public. The new Mrs John Astor was to inherit $5 million, but on the proviso that she never remarried. In the event of marriage, her inheritance would be forfeited.

Madeleine Astor eventually did remarry on June 22, 1916, to childhood friend and banker William K. Dick, thus giving up a substantial fortune.

Interesting Facts

Mrs Robins, the widow of John Astor’s valet who died on the Titanic, brought a “wrongful death” action against the owners of the ship.

Kitty, the Airedale perished with John Jacob Astor.

When Madeleine died of a heart ailment in Florida, in 1940 at the age of forty-six she was buried in the same cemetery as her first husband, Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City.

When the Titanic struck the iceberg it was rumored John Jacob Astor quipped, “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous.”

It was rumored that Astor opened the kennels on the Titanic to let the dogs out.

Accounts of Colonel Astor’s Death

To Colonel Astor’s death Philip Mock bears testimony :

“Many people were hanging on the rafts in the sea. William Thomas Stead and Colonel Astor were among them. Their feet and hands were frozen and they had to let go. Both were drowned.”

The last man to speak to Colonel Astor was Mr K Whiteman, the ship’s barber.

“I Shaved Colonel Astor Sunday Afternoon. He was pleasant, affable man and that awful night when I found myself standing beside him on the passenger deck, helping to put the women into the boats, I spoke to him. I asked him where was his lifebelt and he replied ‘I don’t think there would be any need for it’. I told him to get one while there was time, as the last boat was gone and we are done for. ‘No’, he replied,  ‘I think there are some lifeboats to be launched and we may get on one of them’. I told him there were no more life rafts and the ship was going to sink. ‘I am going to jump overboard and take a chance on swimming out and being picked up by one of the boats’. Astor said he would ‘rather stick’. I asked him to shake hands and he replied ‘ With pleasure’ and he gave me a hearty grip before I climbed up on the rail and jumped overboard.